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Patch management


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Managing and administering software updates remains one of the most challenging and resource-intensive tasks an IT Department undertakes on a daily basis. This white paper examines the important role played by patch management to help organizations keep their PC real estate fully up-to-date with the latest security patches, without unduly compromising reliability, productivity, security and data integrity.

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Patch management

  1. 1. GFI White Paper Patch management: Fixing vulnerabilities before they are exploited Managing and administering software updates remains one of the most challenging and resource-intensive tasks an IT Department undertakes on a daily basis. This white paperexamines the important role played by patch management to help organizations keep their PC real estate fully up-to-date with the latest security patches, without unduly compromising reliablity, productivity, security and data integrity.
  2. 2. Contents Introduction 3 Importance of patch management 3 Balancing security with reliability 4 Solutions for effective patch management 5 Summary 5 About GFI® 6Patch management - Fixing vulnerabilities before they are exploited 2
  3. 3. IntroductionManaging and administering software updates remains one of the most challenging and resource-intensivetasks an IT Department undertakes on a daily basis.While software updates serve many important roles, be it delivering feature improvements or fixing bugs andsecurity vulnerabilities, they bring with them a number of potential challenges for the IT Department in termsof ensuring systems are up-to-date, new problems are not introduced by patches designed to fix things,and updates do not create compatibility or instability issues. All this needs to be done while ensuring thatupdates are pushed to PCs as quickly as possible to prevent vulnerabilities being exploited. The constantlyevolving software landscape makes patch management an important consideration for all IT decision makers,regardless of organization size.Software that is not kept up-to-date with the latest patches and version updates runs the risk of creating weakpoints in your organization’s security strategy, placing servers and client devices at risk from exploitation bymalware, hacking attacks, as well as increasing the risk of reliability-based failure and data loss. The number ofvulnerabilities in software commonly found on client PCs grew by 71 percent between 2009 and 2010 . Thisjump is due in large part to problems occurring within third-party applications, rather than with issues directlyrelated to the underlying Windows operating system (OS) or Microsoft-produced application software.Effective patch management improves reliability and IT efficiency, automating many of the administrativetasks associated with deploying software updates while minimizing the amount of downtime associated withpatch deployment, patch auditing and patch roll-back.Importance of patch managementThe process of keeping a PC or a server fully patched is easier today than ever, thanks in part to the movesof several key software vendors to build automated updates checking into their applications, as well as thehighly-developed Microsoft update service, which can download and, in many cases, install updates in thebackground without requiring user input or a system reboot. Nonetheless, the installation of patches, if leftsolely to the user, can be overlooked, leading to known vulnerabilities being left unaddressed and ripe forexploitation.By virtue of being an application and OS vendor, Microsoft attracts the most attention when it comes toissuing and installing software updates. However, the majority of known application vulnerabilities continueto come from third parties, while the smallest percentage of threats resides in the OS itself. The implicationsof third-party software on PC security and reliability is further challenged by the role of browser plug-ins,media player codecs and other bolt-on codes that works in conjunction with an existing application or systemservice.The vulnerability challenges posed by third-party applications can best be illustrated by looking at the mosttargeted applications. Using 2010 data from the US National Vulnerability Database, we can see that of the top10 applications targeted for vulnerabilities, ranked by total number of targeted vulnerabilities, nine were third-party applications:»» Google Chrome – 152 targeted vulnerabilities»» Apple Safari – 122 targeted vulnerabilities»» Mozilla Firefox – 103 targeted vulnerabilities»» Apple Webkit – 94 targeted vulnerabilities»» Mozilla Seamonkey – 77 targeted vulnerabilities»» Adobe Reader – 60 targeted vulnerabilities»» Mozilla Thunderbird - 60 targeted vulnerabilities»» Adobe Flash Player – 59 targeted vulnerabilitiesPatch management - Fixing vulnerabilities before they are exploited 3
  4. 4. »» Microsoft Internet Explorer - 59 targeted vulnerabilities»» Adobe Acrobat – 57 targeted vulnerabilities.Microsoft Internet Explorer, the highest ranked Microsoft application, was also the highest ranked OS-installedapplication on the list sharing sixth place with Adobe Reader. Microsoft Office, the company’s highest-placed add-on software product, placed 11th. Oracle’s Java Runtime Environment, often targeted whenvulnerabilities are revealed by the release of a patch, placed 12th.The data also illustrates how web browsers continue to be the weakest point when it comes to software-based vulnerabilities.In terms of operating systems, various versions of Microsoft Windows dominate the field by virtue of thesheer market penetration of the OS, while Linux and both the server and desktop versions of Mac OS X followvery close behind. In fact, in 2010 the desktop versions of Mac OS X experienced 96 targeted vulnerabilitiescompared to 88 for Windows Vista and 66 for Windows 7, the latest incarnation of the OS.Managing software updates and critical patch deployment manually will quickly increase the maintenanceoverhead associated with applications and the operating systems they run on, to the point of overwhelmingthe IT team. For example, the volume of software updates and critical vulnerability patches issued by theaverage vendor varies, but in the case of market leader Microsoft, the size of its monthly ‘Patch Tuesday’software update payload can be significant.In April 2011 alone, Microsoft delivered 64 critical fixes across 17 software updates, while the previous monthit fixed just four known flaws with three updates. In February 2011, Adobe patched 42 known bugs andvulnerabilities in its Adobe Reader and Flash products, while Oracle patched 73 known security vulnerabilitiesacross its entire product line in April 2011. The latter is an example of how complex patch management canbe if not automated, as Oracle’s patching applied to both organically-developed products as well as a numberof high-profile acquired products that still sit outside the core Oracle code set such as JD Edwards, PeopleSoft,Siebel and OpenOffice.These are just a few examples of a much larger software patching landscape that affects all software vendors.These are also examples of how little predictability there is in the volume of severity of the patches beingissued; and with it the resources that will be needed to ensure they are installed.Balancing security with reliabilityVarious steps have been taken by operating system and application vendors to simplify the process andto minimize the window during which a machine is exposed to a known application or underlying OSvulnerability, such as integrating automated update download mechanisms and pop-up windows to alertusers on the availability of a new update, as well as offering educational notes on why the user needs todeploy the update.Such services have a weakness in that they rely on users who actively connect to the Internet and allowupdates to be downloaded and installed. The ease with which end-users can update their own machines,coupled with the benefits of encouraging them to do so, also means that the IT department needs tomaintain visibility of what patches have been installed in the event that a problem arises.Even a fully-patched machine can present problems for both the user and the business. For example, inFebruary 2010 Microsoft issued a patch for Windows XP, called MS10-015. The patch, intended to fix long-standing security vulnerabilities in the OS, was found to create significant system instability in certainconfigurations of PCs, leading to the unrecoverable ‘Blue Screen of Death’ Windows error.The error led to the temporary suspension of the patch from Microsoft’s Windows Update patch downloadservice while the instability issues were investigated and fixed. For users that had already installed the patch,the most prudent cause of action was to uninstall the patch and roll the system back to the previous good state.Patch management - Fixing vulnerabilities before they are exploited 4
  5. 5. The ability to roll back a patch is essential to ensure a swift remediation of software problems caused by theinstallation of a software update. There are numerous reasons why an organization might need or choose torevoke a software update that has been pushed out by a vendor and installed:»» Instability – As with the example above, the wide range of potential configurations and software combinations on a PC can mean that even a well-tested software patch can cause a machine or application to malfunction after installation.»» Compatibility – Upgrades can create problems including implementing changes to file formats, database structures, storage formats and communication protocols that have not been carried through the IT estate, or which have not been adopted by a customer or supplier, thus breaking workflow.»» Driver clashes – In instances where the software update makes extensive changes to the way the software interfaces with hardware, it may be necessary to uninstall a patch and hold off deploying until hardware drivers have been updated to restore compatibility with the operating system or application.While other solutions exist for patch management, such as Microsoft’s own Windows Server Update Services(WSUS), these solutions are usually limited in both their scope and ability to automate the patch managementprocess. In the case of WSUS, patch management is limited to only Microsoft applications and system patchesissued through the Microsoft Update framework. Third party solutions are not catered for, while the abilityto revoke and remove a patch that has already been installed is reliant on the operating system, successfullycreating a Microsoft Restore Point at the time the patch was added, meaning that rolling back a system canresult in other perfectly working third party applications being uninstalled in the process.Solutions for effective patch managementThe integrated mechanisms for delivering patches and other software updates to applications and operatingsystems form just one part of the process. For any organization, the key is to deploy an all-encompassingpatch management solution that can automate the process of managing patch deployment and providequick and easy visibility of the current state of patching on all machines.A solution such as GFI LanGuard™ delivers complete suite of patch management tools in one application.With it, IT administrators can monitor the IT estate to provide a single view of what has been installed oneach connected client or server, and trigger automated detection, downloading and deployment of missingpatches to ensure a machine is fully patched before it becomes a problem. This approach ensures that knownvulnerabilities are addressed before they are exploited; and therefore drastically reduces the maintenanceburden placed on IT personnel.In addition, the patch management solution should provide administrators with an effective means toroll-back problematic patches, returning the machine to its pre-patch state in the event of compatibility orinstability issues arising after the installation of an update. This feature is independent of Microsoft’s RestorePoint technology and applies to both system and third party patches.SummaryThe process of patch management has, over time, been complicated by the growth in operating system andapplication patches, along with driver updates, many of which are delivered to servers and clients via vendor-operated automated update services but without the safety net of pre-testing to ensure broad compatibilityand stability with a wide range of custom configurations of server or desktop PC.Patch management plays a critical role in ensuring that companies can keep their PC real estate fully up-to-date with the latest security patches and software updates, without unduly compromising reliability,productivity, security and data integrity.A robust patch management solution that combines swift roll-back of problem patches with a single viewof what patches are installed on machines across the organization, is a critical component of both softwaremanagement and IT security strategies. As part of a wider IT security policy, such a solution will ensure thatapplications are not placed at unnecessary risk, while ensuring that a policy of encouraging end-users toaccept and install critical updates at the first possible opportunity can be maintained.Patch management - Fixing vulnerabilities before they are exploited 5
  6. 6. About GFIGFI Software provides web and mail security, archiving, backup and fax, networking and security softwareand hosted IT solutions for small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) via an extensive global partnercommunity. GFI products are available either as on-premise solutions, in the cloud or as a hybrid of bothdelivery models. With award-winning technology, a competitive pricing strategy and a strong focus on theunique requirements of SMEs, GFI satisfies the IT needs of organizations on a global scale. The company hasoffices in the United States (North Carolina, California and Florida), UK (London and Dundee), Austria, Australia,Malta, Hong Kong, Philippines and Romania, which together support hundreds of thousands of installationsworldwide. GFI is a channel-focused company with thousands of partners throughout the world and is also aMicrosoft Gold Certified Partner.More information about GFI can be found at management - Fixing vulnerabilities before they are exploited 6
  7. 7. USA,»CANADA»AND»CENTRAL»AND»SOUTH»AMERICA15300 Weston Parkway, Suite 104, Cary, NC 27513, USATelephone: +1 (888) 243-4329Fax: +1 (919) 379-3402ussales@gfi.comUK»AND»REPUBLIC»OF»IRELANDMagna House, 18-32 London Road, Staines, Middlesex, TW18 4BP, UKTelephone: +44 (0) 870 770 5370Fax: +44 (0) 870 770,»MIDDLE»EAST»AND»AFRICAGFI House, San Andrea Street, San Gwann, SGN 1612, MaltaTelephone: +356 2205 2000Fax: +356 2138 2419sales@gfi.comAUSTRALIA»AND»NEW»ZEALAND83 King William Road, Unley 5061, South AustraliaTelephone: +61 8 8273 3000Fax: +61 8 8273 3099sales@gfiap.comDisclaimer© 2011. GFI Software. All rights reserved. All product and company names herein may be trademarks of their respective owners.The information and content in this document is provided for informational purposes only and is provided “as is” with no warranty of any kind, either express or implied, including butnot limited to the implied warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, and non-infringement. GFI Software is not liable for any damages, including any consequentialdamages, of any kind that may result from the use of this document. The information is obtained from publicly available sources. Though reasonable effort has been made to ensure theaccuracy of the data provided, GFI makes no claim, promise or guarantee about the completeness, accuracy, recency or adequacy of information and is not responsible for misprints, out-of-date information, or errors. GFI makes no warranty, express or implied, and assumes no legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of any information contained inthis document.If you believe there are any factual errors in this document, please contact us and we will review your concerns as soon as practical.